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Sri Lanka Prez Blames 'Extremist Elements' After Protests Near Home Turn Violent

The police imposed an overnight curfew in several parts of Colombo, which was lifted later on Friday.

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Video Producer: Shohini Bose

Video Editor: Rajbir Singh

As the economic crisis in Sri Lanka intensifies, the capital city of Colombo on Thursday, 31 March, erupted in violent protest as thousands of people participated in an agitation near President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's residence, demanding his resignation.

President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has blamed the violence on "extremist elements."

The protesters were chanting "Go home Gota!" and "Gota is a dictator", according to a report by Al Jazeera.

Protesters had been staging demonstrations every night in Colombo's suburbs, and Thursday's protest had begun peacefully a few streets away from Rajapaksa's residence.

Reports said that at least 10 people were injured after the demonstrators clashed with the police on Thursday evening, with the officials employing water cannons and tear gas to quell the unrest in Colombo's Mrihana. Several of the injured persons were journalists, reports said.

According to news agency ANI, six of the injured were admitted to the Colombo National Hospital, while four patients were admitted to the Colombo South Teaching Hospital in Kalubowila.

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Consequently, the police imposed an overnight curfew in several parts of Colombo, which was lifted afterwards on Friday.

Inspector-General of Police, CD Wickramaratne, told the media that the curfew would last "until further notice." According to NDTV, the Paramilitary Police Unit, a special task force, was brought in to control the protests.

After Thursday's protest turned violent, more demonstrations spread throughout the city, and visuals showed protestors blocking the main highway from Colombo to Kandy using burning logs.

NDTV reported, quoting a police spokesperson, that 45 people had been arrested following the protest.

"One police bus, 1 police jeep, 2 motorbikes were burnt and one water cannon truck has been damaged," a police spokesperson said.

Govt Terms Protests 'Act of Terrorism' 

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government said that the protests were an "act of terrorism" sparked by "extremist elements" who were hand-in-glove with Opposition parties, PTI reported.

Sri Lanka's Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunge also said on Friday that the ongoing protests were not constructive in nature.

"Our stance is that people have the right to protest but it should be constructive. What happened yesterday was the opposite," the minister was quoted as saying by Reuters.

He also added that the main issue the country was facing was a forex shortage, and emphasised that the ongoing protests would have economic consequences, and would harm the prospects of tourism in the country.
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Sharing his views on the matter, Namal Rajapaksa, PM Rajapaksa's son and a minister in the government, stated that governments in the country had always come to power through democratic means.

"Sri Lanka has no history of changing governments with violence," he told NDTV.

Power Cuts, High Fuel Prices

The demand for the president's resignation comes as Sri Lanka battles its worst economic crisis since 1948, triggered by a severe shortage of fuel, food, and foreign exchange to afford imports.

On Wednesday, the nation had announced 10-hour daily power cuts, as the state electricity monopoly said that the country had run out of oil to power thermal generators and was imposing a 10-hour power cut – up from a seven-hour outage since the beginning of the month.

Prices of fuel have skyrocketed since the beginning of the year with the cost of petrol up by 92 percent and that of diesel by 76 percent in the country. Officials said that it took the government 12 days to arrange for $44 million and pay for the latest shipment of LP gas and kerosene.

The state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) said there would be no diesel in the country for at least two days. Motorists waiting in long queues were asked to leave until imported fuel was restocked.

The country is seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund and has turned to India and China for financial aid.

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Topics:  Sri Lanka   Colombo   Gotabaya Rajapaksa 

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